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UN: Africa Falling Behind In Export Growth


A U.N. report finds two decades of trade liberalization have successfully removed many of the barriers that used to limit trade from the continent. But, the report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development says progress has been less than expected. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNCTAD headquarters in Geneva.

The report says trade liberalization in Africa has led to a slight increase in exports. But, it says these increases are far below those achieved in other developing regions.

UNCTAD Senior Economist and report author Charles Gore says Africa's share in world agricultural trade stood at 3.2 percent in 2006. He says this was lower than in 1985 when agricultural exports stood at 5.4 percent.

"Even more worrying from the point of view of the report, is that there has been little diversification in the export composition. Diversification into high-value agricultural exports has only been successful in a few countries, notably Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. And there has also been very little diversification into manufactures exports," he said.

Gore says diversification of African economies could ensure more robust and stable growth, but this has not occurred. He says the manufacturing sector could potentially yield higher profits and higher living standards.

He says governments must take effective steps to reverse several worrisome trends. These include decades of relative neglect of agriculture that have hindered African countries at a time of climbing commodity prices. "After trade liberalization, imports have increased as a share of GDP much more quickly than exports. And thus African countries have experienced a worsening trade balance. Overall, one may therefore characterize the export performance as modest, though in value terms this has been masked by the recent commodity price boom," he said.

The report says Africa is experiencing a food crisis mainly because of the negligence in development policies pursued during the past 25 years. U.N. Economists say a number of factors are hindering African agricultural performance.

Key constraints include poor physical infrastructure, inefficient product markets, lack of credit, and weak land and labor markets. They say gender division of labor and constraints on access for women to land also create problems.

The report says developed countries have an important role to play in helping African countries improve their export performance, notably through aid-for-trade initiatives.